A group of planters from Barbados, led by Col. John Yeamans, tried to plant a colony they called “Charles Ttown” on the Lower Cape Fear in 1664. The attempt foundered due to disease and hostility from the local Indians (who were hostile since the settlers were trying to take their children as slaves).
By 1665, almost all the colonists had chosen to head overland for more established settlements on the Albemarle Sound and in Virginia. The site of “Charles Town” was in the vicinity of Town Creek (also known as “Old Town Creek”); archaeologists have found the remains of chimneys dating from the 1600s and other traces of the colony in the area.
The first permanent settlers of the Lower Cape Fear ended up coming north from South Carolina. Col. Maurice Moore, a politically connected South Carolinian, first visited the area when he marched through to fight in the Yamassee or Tuscarora War. He liked what he saw and returned 10 years later with a land grant from Gov. George Burrington and founded the settlement of Brunswick Town on the west bank of the Cape Fear River. (The remains of that settlement are now a state historic site.)
Maurice Moore convinced his brothers Roger and Nathaniel to join in the enterprise, along with their in-laws Eleazar Allen and John Porter, from elsewhere in North Carolina. (“King” Roger Moore later founded Orton Plantation.) The Moores and their kin formed “the Family,” a tightly-knit political and social nexus that frustrated North Carolina’s royal governors for years.
The early settlers were overwhelmingly English or Scottish. A number migrated south from elsewhere in North Carolina. Cornelius Harnett, the father of the Patriot leader in the Revolutionary War, left the Albemarle Sound area (reportedly just ahead of the law) and settled in Brunswick Town, where he ran an inn and prospered.
James Wimble, one of the founders of the Newton/New Liverpool settlement that eventually become Wilmington, was born in Sussex, England and lived in Barbados before immigrating to the Albemarle Sound and heading south.
Large numbers of Highland Scots — including Scottish heroine Flora MacDonald and her husband Allan — sailed into Wilmington in the 1700s, but most moved north along the Cape Fear to the Highlander settlements at Campbelltown and Cross Creek (modern-day Fayetteville). At least some Scots, such as merchant James Murray, stayed on in Wilmington. The Scottish Presbyterian preacher Hugh McAden addressed ”a large and splendid audience” at Wilmington in 1752, and local residents were celebrating St. Andrew’s Day (in honor of Scotland’s patron saint) as early as 1800.
A small number of Sephardic Jews, who had migrated to British territories from former homes in Spain and the Arab world, may have been present as early as Wilmington’s founding. Aaron Lazarus, from a prominent Jewish family in Charleston, S.C., moved to Wilmington around 1800, became a local merchant and was elected a director of the Bank of Cape Fear.
African Americans came to the area early, from a number of locations. Many slaves were imported from British colonies in the Caribbean; for many years, the local black community celebrated a festival called “Jonkonnu” or “John Canoe,” similar to carnivals that continue to this day in Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Some were brought more or less straight from Africa. Thomas Peters, captured in his 20s in West Africa, was brought to Louisiana and was eventually sold to William Campbell of Wilmington. Early in the Revolutionary War, when British troops landed in the region, Peters ran away and enlisted in the British forces, taking up royal Gov. Josiah Martin’s promise of liberation in return for military service. Peters became a sergeant in the Black Pioneers, a British unit serving in New York City. After the war, he and his family were settled by the British in Nova Scotia, where he became a leader in the black community there. Later he joined a settlement of freed slaves organized by British emancipationists in West Africa, which became the colony, and later the independent republic, of Sierra Leone.
Two good books on early Wilmington’s hisstory are by Alan D. Watson, a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington: “Wilmington: Port of North Carolina” and “Wilmingotn, North Carolina, to 1861.”
Date posted: July 22, 2010
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